OPINION: NC State’s Jewish Birthright Expedition to Israel Is a Model of Affordable and Meaningful International Travel | Opinion

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I have just returned from an unforgettable 10 day Israel travel program organized by the Hillel organization at NC State, a trip I will remember forever. Forty other participants and I, who have become close friends, still revel in the inextinguishable memories of this unique experience of heritage, history and pure pleasure. The accessible and affordable nature of this trip should be available in other NC State programs because it allows many students to participate without financial worry.

The Birthright Trip is a semester-long heritage program offered during winter and summer vacations that connects Jewish students to Israeli life. Since 2010, the Hillel Chapter of NC State has organized the trip for more than 900 students from more than 20 campuses. According to the Birthright website, more than 750,000 international young adults have visited Israel on birthright trips in recent years.

Some students choose to stay longer than the 10-day program for “Onward,” an eight-week summer internship where participants gain considerable experience in areas such as robotics, education, and government while enjoying of the vibrant lifestyle of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other exciting cities.

Many students are hesitant to study abroad because they don’t think they can afford it. However, upon further research, NC State offers short-term and semester-abroad study programs that cost less than tuition.

That being said, the University also offers programs that range in price from $1,000 to $2,000 more than tuition, but the additional costs allow students to select the program that best suits their educational goals. . For example, there was a week-long short-term trip to the Bahamas for biology last June, which cost $3,525. However, you shouldn’t necessarily be deterred by the cost – according to the Office of Study Abroad Scholarships, on average one in three applicants receives financial aid from more than 20 different types of scholarships and travel grants.

Birthright is funded by the Israeli government, the Jewish Federations of North America and more than 40,000 donors worldwide each year. Travel was free for participants with most expenses covered, including flights and local transportation, hotels, tours, other activities, and most meals.

After an exciting briefing, I decided to join the group of students from NC State, Kent State University, Purdue and Vanderbilt, all eager to explore Israel, a beautiful country by the Mediterranean Sea with thousands of years of history.

Staying in hostels across the country, we rode camels through the Negev desert, lodged in a Bedouin tent used by desert nomads, and climbed the ancient fortification of Masada. Visiting the borders with Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip, we had the opportunity to observe at first hand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict woven for decades throughout the region.

We made a powerful visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial site for the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust on Mount Hetzel, the Mount of Remembrance, and celebrated Shabbat dinner and Bar Mitzvahs in the geological wonder of Ramon Crater in the Negev Desert. .

The educational aspect of this trip along with the active component of the constant travel made it an amazing experience. In Israel, one can easily feel the connection between Israel and the founding of the country in an ancient past, sacred to all monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

We celebrated traditional Jewish holidays such as Shabbat and heard and practiced Hebrew, an ancient language dating back to the Old Testament, which is spoken in very few countries. Throughout the 10 days, I felt a close connection to my culture as I took a journey that explored a vital part of my roots and identity.

NC State also offers a trip to Peru where students can focus on learning Spanish and experiencing Peruvian culture. Participants can take 300- and 400-level Spanish lessons while exploring the Andes Mountains, visiting Lima and Machu Picchu, and performing community service in Cusco. By immersing themselves in Peruvian families, the trip deepens students’ connection to the culture, their customs and their language – similar to Birthright.

I am still in contact with friends who are staying in Israel this summer, and it is clear to me that they are enjoying their time and learning a lot about the Middle East and the culture of Israel. I know I will come back for a longer professional or educational experience like an internship or a summer job — because once opened, this window will not close again. My birthright journey turned out to be the journey of a lifetime.

NC State is home to approximately 400 Jewish students with a wide range of religious affiliations. Hillel truly delivers on its promise as a warm gathering place, whether in its Hillsborough Street office or on campus, where a myriad of creative activities take place including community service, fundraisers and celebrations. of Jewish holidays. Ultimately, more NC State students should be able to take advantage of the many opportunities available at our vast institution. Study abroad and other cultural excursions have been made available and accessible to the majority of the student population, benefiting those seeking to broaden their horizons or understand their heritage.

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